by Amichai-Hamburger Yair | December 06, 2017
Leaders strive to influence the behavior of group members through the creation of a group culture -- the meaningful beliefs and values that a group shares. Newcomers to the group will quickly learn the dominant cultural values and will adapt their perception and behavior accordingly. But while this is a common practice in virtually every workplace, as more organizations are embracing remote working arrangements, leaders are having to use the Internet to do this culture-creating. The main tools the leader uses to create group culture are symbols, stories, jargon, and ceremonies.

Symbols are a means of conveying an organization or website's culture. They can encapsulate a set of common norms, a language, and commonalities between members. For example, should you start a new job in an office, you are likely to learn about the organizational culture from the physical environment around you, such as a company logo. Consider Apple's logo: a deeply bitten apple can be understood as representing both desire and knowledge. Every organization is trying to convey messages through its use of symbols; the challenge facing the leader of an online connected team is how to move the power of such symbols into the realm of the Internet. Such leaders think of their websites as physical organizations, where it is vital that people visiting will immediately understand the organizational symbols, and what they portray. These symbols represent the values of an organization or website -- the family, creativity, or high-quality goods with no compromises, for example.

Stories are also a powerful tool for transmitting organizational values. When the stories distributed among a group are consistent with the leader's values, group culture is likely to be positively affected. A good story is worth a great deal and the Internet provides many channels through which to spread it. If the purpose of your online organization is to encourage young people to volunteer for overseas development projects, you need to post stories about happy volunteers, the difference they have made in the lives of others, and the sense of personal satisfaction they gained. However, if your stories do not ring true because they contradict the actual values of the organization, they will fail to have a positive impact.

Jargon is an effective way to make members of an online organization feel part of a specific culture. Only those in the know will understand the key words, concepts, and metaphors used by your organization, which will give them a sense of belonging.

Ceremonies are used as opportunities to bring staff together, and for leaders to reinforce organizational values and celebrate the successes of the organization. Online, leaders can utilize this concept to their advantage in that ceremonies are easy to document and to replay continually for their followers. Say, for example, that your organization values creativity. You could create an online competition challenging followers to be creative, with a serious incentive as a prize. This could be followed by an online prize-giving ceremony promoting the creativity of the winner and, by default, your organization. This concept could be taken one step further: each week the organization could set a different creative challenge. If the leader declares that winning ideas will affect group processes, this too is likely to encourage people to join in, watch the ceremonies, and participate actively in such events. In this way, ceremonies are likely to affect group culture.

There are clearly a number of promising tools that leaders can use to develop a shared culture via the Internet. Using the ones that fit your organization and goals should help to build a strong corporate culture, even when workers are not in the office.

Amichai-Hamburger Yair is the author of Internet Psychology: The Basics, from which this excerpt is taken. He is director of the Research Center for Internet Psychology, based at the Sammy Ofer School of Communications at the Interdisciplinary Center, based in Herzliya, Israel.